Excerpt: 'The Scarecrow'

But in another two weeks it wouldn't matter to me. I was moving on and already secretly thinking about the half-started, half-assed novel I had waiting in a drawer somewhere in my house. I was going to pull that baby out as soon as I got home. I knew I could milk my savings for at least six months and after that I could live off the equity in my house – what was left of it after the recent slide – if I needed to. I could also downsize my car and save on gas by getting one of those hybrid tin cans everybody in town was driving.

I was already beginning to see my shove out the door as an opportunity. Deep down, every journalist wants to be a novelist. It's the difference between art and craft. Every writer wants to be considered an artist and I was now going to take my shot at it. The half-novel I had sitting in my desk – the plot of which I couldn't even correctly remember – was my ticket.

"Are you out the door today?" Goodwin asked.

"No, I got a couple weeks if I agreed to train my replacement. I agreed."

"How fucking noble of them. Don't they allow anybody any dignity over there anymore?"

"Hey, it beats walking out with a cardboard box today. Two weeks' pay is two weeks' pay."

"But do you think that's fair? How long have you been there? Six, seven years and they give you two weeks?"

He was trying to draw an angry quote from me. I was a reporter. I knew how it worked. He wanted something juicy he could put into the blog. But I wasn't biting. I told Goodwin I had no further comment for the Velvet Coffin, at least not until I was permanently out the door. He wasn't satisfied with that answer and kept trying to pry a comment out of me until I heard the call-on-hold beep in my ear. I looked at the caller ID and saw XXXXX on the screen. This told me the call had come through the switchboard rather than from a caller who had my direct number. Lorene, the newsroom operator I could see on duty in the booth, would have been able to tell I was on my line so her decision to park a call on it rather than take the message could only mean the caller had convinced her that the call was important.

I cut Goodwin off.

"Look, Don, I've got no comment and I need to go. I've got another call."

I pushed the button before he could take a third swing at getting me to discuss my employment situation.

"This is Jack McEvoy," I said after switching over.

Silence.

"Hello, this is Jack McEvoy. How can I help you?"

Call me biased but I immediately identified the voice that replied as female, black and uneducated.

"McEvoy? When you goin' to tell the truth, McEvoy?"

"Who is this?"

"You tellin' lies, McEvoy, in your paper."

I wished it was my paper.

"Ma'am, if you want to tell me who you are and what your complaint is about, I'll listen. Otherwise, I'm – "

"They now sayin' Mizo is'n adult and what kinda shit is that? He did'n kill no whore."

Immediately I knew it was one of those calls. Those calls on behalf of the "innocent." The mother or girlfriend who had to tell me how wrong my story was. I got them all the time but not for too much longer. I resigned myself to handling this call as quickly and politely as possible.

"Who is Mizo?"

"Zo. My Zo. My son Alonzo. He ain' guilty a nothin' and he ain't no adult."

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